By Deji Abdulwahab
The U.S Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Leonard, on Wednesday reiterated her country’s decision to deny or cancel visas for any Nigerian, who try to undermine the 2023 general elections.
Leonard made the assertions in Abuja at the Multi-Stakeholders Dialogue with the theme: “Nigeria’s 2023 Elections: Fostering Youth Action for Peace and Stability’’.
The dialogue was organised by the National Orientation Agency (NOA), in collaboration with Building Blocks for Peace Foundation.
The envoy said: “ The United States stands firm with Nigerian voters’ demand and desire for transparency and electoral integrity.
“Individual, who undercut or undermine the democratic process in any way, including through intimidation and violence, may be found ineligible for visas to travel to the United States.
“We took steps in the past to impose U.S’ visa restrictions against anyone complicit in undermining the electoral process.
“And in fact, Secretary of State, Blinken, announced just last week that we are imposing sanctions linked to past such behaviours.
“We will similarly deny or cancel visas for those who try to undermine the upcoming elections.
“Visa records are confidential, so we won’t announce the identities of those subject to visa sanctions.
“But, I can tell you I am personally aware of people whose travel to the U.S has been or will be blocked on these grounds.
“We look to all Nigerians to speak out against the use of violence or inflammatory rhetoric.’’
According to her, politicians and candidates have every right to challenge their opponents’ stance on issues.
“But, the use of inflammatory rhetoric and intimidation, and irresponsible incitements to violence, are extremely harmful to the country and to public faith in elections.
“It is also essential that candidates and their parties and supporters do not make brash predictions of victory or instantly claim fraud, if they lose at the ballot box.
“Candidates and parties that seek to run for public office must accept one fundamental truth – that losing is always possible.
“If a candidate is not willing to accept the possibility that he or she might be defeated, then, they probably should not be running for office in the first place.
“There is no true democratic election in which the outcome is foretold.
“In the United States, for example, we have seen numerous contests in which a particular candidate seemed certain to win, based on popular opinion or pre-election polling data, only for the votes to prove otherwise.
“In many political races, voting outcomes are really tough to predict and the very unexpected can happen on Election Day.
“Everyone needs to remember that the only polls that really matter are the ones Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will count in late February and March,’’ she said.
The 2023 elections are a pivotal opportunity for Nigeria – Africa’s most populous country and its largest economy – to solidify its place as a democratic leader in Africa.
“We favour no candidate; we favour that open, transparent and peaceful process,’’ she said.
According to her, elections are the foundation of democracy and the basis for the legitimate transfer of power.
“I think it is valuable for us all to reflect on the fact that, since 1999, Nigerian voters have successfully exercised their democratic power six times to determine the country’s next leader.
“For more than two decades, Nigeria has demonstrated to Africa and the entire world its strong commitment to peaceful, credible and transparent elections.
“At a time when many places in West Africa are challenging things like term limits and democratic processes, for Nigeria, these rules of the democratic game are deeply internalised and accepted.’’
She said that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are personally committed to strengthening democracy in the U.S and around the world.
“At the invitation of the Nigerian Government, the Biden’s administration is advancing our longstanding partnership with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Nigerian civil society organisations.
“Through USAID, the U.S. is providing 25 million dollars in elections-related support to Nigeria for the 2023 election cycle,’’ the envoy said.
Leonard said that U.S has full confidence in INEC and its ability to organise and conduct credible and transparent elections.
“We saw INEC’s capabilities on display during the recent successful off-cycle elections in Ekiti and Osun, and we look forward to seeing that success extended nationwide during the February and March general elections.’
“Our confidence stems in part from last year’s signing by President Muhammadu Buhari and other elected leaders of the Electoral Act of 2022.
“This key legislation strengthened Nigeria’s electoral system, for example, through the use of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) for voter accreditation and the electronic transmission of results.
“These are proven methods to improve transparency and drastically reduce the potential for vote tampering,’’ she said.
Earlier, Dr Davidson Aminu, a Senior Lecturer, Philomath University, Abuja, urged Nigerian youths to take advantage of their numerical strength to elect quality and best candidate that would promote youths development and empowerment.
Aminu said that youths must use their votes wisely to foster a generational change devoid of violence and acrimony.
According to him, they must embrace peace for the country to achieve successful conduct of the forthcoming general elections.
Also, the Director-General of NOA, Dr Garba Abari, said that the dialogue was aimed at educating
youths to take action against hate speech and fake news in order to have peaceful and violence free elections.
Abari, then urged youths to shun drug addiction and other vices capable of truncating democratic process.